"Well...I wasn't a real SHIELD agent," Sophie said, in response to Eliot's incredulous question.
This did not calm Eliot down as much as anyone had hoped.
"You faked your way into SHIELD?" he demanded. "I applied three times legitimately and never got in!"
"An oversight I'm prepared to admit to," said the calm, plain-faced man sitting at the bar. "Our screening agents were mainly Hydra, and notes suggest you weren't considered Hydra material. Too moral, I understand," he said. Eliot looked murderous.
"Wait -- does that mean you thought I was Hydra material?" Sophie said, also looking murderous.
"Too moral!" Eliot muttered.
"Not me personally," Phil Coulson replied. "As I understand it, your file never came under the review of the recruitment team. You just showed up in the field in a uniform, seemed reasonably competent, and said your file had been lost in a database system upgrade. Someone bought that, probably because you're charming."
"You are very charming," Nate put in.
"And I'm told you looked good in the uniform," Coulson added.
"Flattery is for lesser beings," Sophie snapped.
"And you slipped a fake employee file into the archives so that if anyone did check, they'd find it," Coulson said. "It was very impressive. Not nearly as impressive as your real resume, however."
"Yes, I know," Sophie replied.
"Which leads us to why you're here, I think," Nate said. Coulson gave him a nod as one mastermind to another.
"SHIELD has experienced a drastic reduction in capable agents since the Helicarriers fell," he said. "And an equally drastic uptick in prisoners. We can pay grunts to patrol the Hydra cells, that's not an issue, but that still leaves us the problem of too few agents, far too few new recruit applications, and a lot of people who wouldn't spit on us if we were on fire."
Eliot and Hardison both raised their hands.
"Well, I mean, spitting is fun," Parker said, when they looked at her expectantly.
"So we would like to re-hire you, pro tem, as a training officer and field agent until we can rebuilt our counterintelligence team," Coulson said.
"What?" Sophie asked.
"Your work with SHIELD was exemplary. The organization has traditionally overlooked minor criminal offenses for extraordinary individuals. I believe you could be an asset to SHIELD, and Agent May agrees."
"Oh! How is Melinda?" Sophie asked. "She's so sweet," she added to Nate, who gave her a skeptical eyebrow. She turned back to Coulson. "But no, I'm afraid I can't. I couldn't leave the crew."
"The invitation is extended to your crew, contingent on your acceptance," Coulson said smoothly. "You would receive a back-pay bonus and they would, of course, receive the standard signing bonus."
"Do we spit on him now?" Parker asked Hardison.
"He's not on fire yet," Hardison said.
"I could fix that," Eliot offered.
"Also, I have this," Coulson said, offering them a file. Hardison took it, studied it, then handed it to Eliot. "SHIELD is interested in recovery of the artifact. And the thief who took it, living if possible, but we're not especially picky. It's apparently in a vault filled with other valuables. Technically SHIELD agents are required to report additional goods recovered, but of course we leave a great deal of latitude for that reporting in the hands of the team leader."
He gave Sophie a pointed look.
"So if we steal the whatsis, we keep the junk?" Parker asked.
"You would do well in our legal department," Coulson told her.
"I prefer the illegal ones," she said.
"Oh, damn," Hardison said. There was a second file under the first, which he was now reading. "Eeeeeveryone's been hacking you, son."
"We do need someone capable of rebuilding our server security after one of my field agents destroyed it in the Hydra purge," Coulson said. "I think you've heard of her, Natasha Romanoff?"
"THE Natasha Romanoff?"
"I can get her autograph for you, if you want."
"Sounds like it might be time for a team vote," Nate said. Hardison put his hand up.
"Traitor," Eliot grumbled.
"All in favor of a temporary gig with SHIELD as the next team activity?" Nate asked. Hardison kept his hand up; Parker and Sophie put theirs up.
"All in or none in," Nate said to Eliot. Eliot rolled his eyes, but he waggled one hand vaguely in the direction of up. "And I'm in."
"Excellent," Coulson said.
Nate rubbed his hands together. "Let's go steal an intelligence agency!"
"Technically we're stealing you," Coulson corrected.
"Believe that, if it helps," Nate agreed, patting him on the shoulder as they filed upstairs to pack.